Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Pumpkin Spice makes Halloween nice

I have these muffins every year for Halloween. They are unbelievable when fresh, and can be reheated in the microwave or oven very quickly and easily. Nothing puts me in the Halloween mood more than these muffins.

1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1.5 cups whole-wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs, beaten a tad
2 cups granulated sugar
1 can (15 oz.) 100% Pure Pumpkin, Libby's
2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels, Nestlé Toll House
1 cup vegetable oil

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
2) Combine all flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a bowl.
3) Put eggs and sugar in a large bowl.
4) Mix in the pumpkin and the oil.
5) Mix in the original bowl with the flour. Stir until the entire mixture is wet and consistent.
6) Carefully put batter into ready muffin cups.
7) Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Bargain Bites

I have been reading Bargain Bites from The Chronicle for the last several years now. For those who are not familiar, The San Francisco Chronicle's food section puts out a Bargain Bites section each year where their food reporters travel throughout the Bay Area trying almost every cheap restaurant that they can find. In the end they publish a list with recommendations of the best meals at the best restaurants for the best prices throughout the Bay. This is a great way to get to find new, affordable places that you may have never thought to try before. Each year I find this article to get better and better.

This weekend I was actually able to try a new place from this year's edition on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Each time I was unbelievably happy when my meal was finished. I tried pupusa's from Balompie Café, a burrito from The Hot Shop, and Mongolian Beef and Mu Shu pork from Shan Dong. The pupusa's were made from the freshest corn tortillas, grilled until the edges of the tortillas were just crisp; the gooey, cheesy insides filled with deliciously fried zucchini and grilled chorizo. The burrito, possibly the most interesting part of the weekend, was oozing with the most delicious sweet and tangy lamb curry. Tonight the Mongolian beef was hot and spicy with a salty finish and the beef was as soft and tender as slow roasted vegetables.

The most amazing part about these three meals was probably that I never paid more than $10.00 for an entire meal. A good friend of mine read this blog over the weekend and sent me an email in response. She reminded me of the idea of over-priced food from my first post. She is an unbelievable cook. Every time I've been to her house for dinner I am blown away by the quality of the meal. She said that she understands not liking to go out for food and pay for something that she feels she could have made herself. That is why when she goes out it is generally for ethnic food, something she cannot make normally on her own. I noticed that of the three meals I ate this weekend they were all ethnic. Salvadorian, Mexican, and Chinese. All things that I know I could not reproduce on my own. What makes this even more interesting is that the majority, if not all, of the restaurants in Bargain Bites are of some ethnic background that isn't of American or European decent. It makes me wonder what it is that they do that makes there prices that much cheaper than the Italian or French places throughout the city.

So what is it about ethnic food that makes its prices so much cheaper? Is the quality actually that much lower, or are the people in contemporary restaurants just ripping us off? If so, can they really get away with that? More on this thought later...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Just as a small note I would like to share my feelings on service at a restaurant. I went to a place in the Mission last night that I had read about in this year's edition of The Chronicle's Bargain Bites. I will admit that I went with expectations only pertaining to food, and I wasn't let down. The food was very good. It was the service that struggled, and therefore left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I realize that maybe I shouldn't have expected much more from this low end, hippie-ish fish restaurant, but they could have been a little bit friendlier and tried a little bit harder to satisfy the customers. I thought about how a meal, or a dining experience, can be altered by so many different things. Food is not the only important issue. Yes the food may taste good, but if you don't have enough time to eat it, or you're forced to try and enjoy it while sitting next to some large, sweaty guy on the bus who keeps looking at you and forces you to ask him, "Can I help you, or do you just want some of my food?" the meal won't be as memorable. Not for the good things anyway!

Now some of you may read this and think, "So what?? I always knew that." Well it's wonderful that you figured that out all by yourself, but I am someone who normally reads a food review and only looks at how they rated the food, and maybe how expensive it was. The "atmosphere" or "ambiance" category was always overlooked. So for me this "breakthrough" was a big deal.

That's all. I just wanted to share my idea that while the tastes of food itself may be the most important thing in a meal, it is truly the overall experience that draws us together around the same table. Without a pleasant atmosphere it becomes much less of a passion, and much more about shoveling food into the gaping hole below your nose and above your neck.

Monday, October 22, 2007


I have made pizza since I was little. My mom first taught me to make it. It was always such a treat to wake up early, start making the dough, get the ingredients together, and then finally roll out the dough and bake the pie. I guess I can see why I love cooking so much now that I'm older. I am NOT a morning person, therefore the fact that I actually ENJOYED getting up early to cook is very interesting. Anyway, originally pizza was only made for special occasions. It was too labor intensive to do otherwise. As time went on, however, it became more and more common. Then for some reason a year or two ago I just stopped. I don't know why. I simply did not make a pizza for what felt like a very long time.

A couple of weeks ago an article came out in the food section of the chronicle about pizza, thus inspiring me to make pizza again. I have been on a pizza binge ever since.

I made pizza last night for dinner. I made two 12" pies. One with a thin layer of pesto, a layer of mozzarella, very thinly sliced zucchini, and then topped with dollops of pesto. The other pie was a very simple tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella with basil. While the toppings of both pies turned out very well, I was painfully reminded of the difficulty that comes with making the crust. The dough I made was good, and it rolled out nicely into two very thin crusted pies. But when I popped them in the ovens they did not cook the way I had wanted them to. They simply didn't get crispy enough. The toppings cooked through, but the crust just didn't cut it.

What this made me realize is that cooking is a process that is never ending. You can't just drop it, or do it less frequently. While the instinctive sense of what to do in the kitchen will probably never leave you, the tips and tricks that you once learned may have been forgotten. It's like driving a car. If you stop for a while and start again, you will remember how to do it, but it will take a little while to remember what to do when you may encounter dangerous or difficult situations. I now realize that I have got to keep making pizza because it is one of my favorite things to cook, and I will never fully master it until I have done it enough.

Because pizza blogs seem to be all the rage now-a-days, I think I will keep this thread going as my young pizzaiolo career continues. Hopefully I will master this tricky, but beautiful art form.

Friday, October 19, 2007

This one's for you Joe

In my house baseball is of the highest importance. To us the Yankees are like one of those girlfriends that you always fight with, but you can never break up. Through all of the ups and downs over the past few years (and yes, I realize we haven't had nearly as many downs as other teams or fans) we always continue to love the Yankees like no other. Yesterday I was unbelievably sad to hear that Joe Torre did not accept the ridiculous contract that was offered to him by Mr. High and Mighty and the rest of the gang in the Yankee management. It is not that I think Joe was wrong, I understand his decision completely. The deal he was offered was disgraceful and rude. Nonetheless I am devastated to hear that Joe Torre will no longer be the manager of the New York Yankees. He was a classy man, and a great manager.

(Moment of silence)

Anyway, I was so upset that I needed to make some sort of comfort food. I thought of what I wanted, and it seemed like the most logical choice, pasta! I've grown up with great pasta being a very common part of my diet, and it is something I have loved since I was a baby. Though I was too upset to write this post yesterday, I figured that I would share my recipe for a great gravy, or tomato sauce, for all you pasta lovers out there.

If I have enough time I love to make this sauce with fresh tomatoes, but since I usually don't I tend to use Pomi strained tomatoes. You are welcomed to use any type of strained tomatoes if you don't have enough time to go with fresh, but I highly recommend Pomi if you can find it...

8-10 fresh Roma tomatoes, pureed or 2 26.5 oz containers of Pomi strained tomatoes
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon red pepper (I like things spicy, if that's not for you add less red pepper.)
3 italian sausages, sweet or spicy, cut into 1" pieces
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine, drier wine is better

1) Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large pot. Once it's hot add the garlic
2) After cooking the garlic for about 2-3 minutes add the onion. Fry these together in the pot for about 5 minutes, or until the onion becomes slightly translucent.
3) Add the sausage and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the sausage is cooked around the edges. Don't fully cook the sausage!
4) Add the tomatos and red wine. Turn heat down to low
5) After about 10 minutes add the basil, salt, pepper, sugar, and oregano. Let slow cook for about 30 minutes.

I normally don't use exact measurments when I make this sauce. This is a pretty accurate way to describe it, but be sure to taste this often and adjust to your liking! Serve it with grated parmesan if you like it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fried Clams... mmmmm

I was in Boston this past weekend and I was able to experience some highlights of the New England cuisine. While I love a good bowl of New England clam chowder whole-heartedly, the prized dish of the weekend had to be the fried clams. I had never tried them before, due to the fact that they are NON-EXISTENT on the west coast, and I was not let down. These are a great way to eat clams, and a real treat.

Let me back up here for a minute. It wasn't until not too long ago that I even knew about the famous fried clams of New England. Because of growing up and living in the Bay Area, I had never seen them on menus around here. I've traveled a fair amount, but for some reason my trips to New England have only included visits to family in Connecticut. Unfortunately for me, I have never had the chance to really experience the food. So anyway, it was a couple of weeks ago when I was reading a food blog on the New York Times website. The author wrote about his journey up and down the coast of New England looking for the fried clams of his youth. This article made the clams sound so good that I knew that I needed to find the same kind of satisfaction from fried clams when I was in Boston.

I looked pretty hard. Though I was trying to get a feel for all different types of food in Boston, I tried the fried clams at several different locations. They were all delicious, however it was at a small, cozy, contemporary seafood restaurant in the North End called Neptune Oyster where I found paradise. Living up to its name, the oysters were delicious. 12 different kinds. Salty, plump, juicy, briny, cucumbery, buttery, chewy, anything you could think of they had. It was the fried clams though that took the cake. When they arrived the pile of clams were just perfectly golden, and I could smell the tangy, saltiness of the batter with a lemony finish, and the subtle fishiness of the clams. Thinking of the smell alone makes my mouth water. I could not wait to take my first taste. As I bit into the first clam my taste buds went wild. The first thing I noticed was the burst of salty clam juice that erupted as soon as the fat belly of the clam had been punctured. Next was the slightly chewy neck of the clam. The combination of fat, juicy belly and thin, chewy, and buttery neck went together perfectly. Then I noticed the batter. Thick, but still very light. Extremely crunchy, and yet silky. Salty, but also acidic from the lemon. The flavors were meant to be. Plus, the most amazing part, not the least bit greasy! The wet juice of the clam mixed together with the crunchiness of the batter and helped it melt in my mouth. These clams had been done excellently. Some of the other clams I had tried were either too chewy, too covered in batter, not juicy enough, or not flavorful enough. These clams had just enough flavor to stand out even with the delicious, golden batter, and they were just juicy and soft enough to interact mutually with the batter. Unlike at other venues, the flavors did not have to compete over which was more powerful, the clam or the batter. These were one of the highlights of my trip. They were heavenly.

Hopefully we can find away to bring these to California!

Sunday, October 7, 2007


I tried this great new restaurant/ café in San Francisco on Wednesday called Mission Beach Café. I hadn't heard much about this restaurant before going, but a friend took me after hearing great things about it through someone else. As a small plug for this place I will say that my meal was unbelievable. Every single dish that I had was exceptional. Mission Beach Café has gotten very little recognition thus far from food critics, but great reviews are soon to come. The ambience is great, the service was wonderfully friendly, and literally every dish was out of this world. The pastries, the pie in particular, were some of the best I have had in San Francisco, and maybe ever. I highly recommend this restaurant.

The main reason for this post is to describe the differences between my experiences at Pizzaiolo and Mission Beach Café. As I said in my previous post, my meal at Pizzaiolo was good but too simple. Mission Beach Café however was the exact opposite experience. What better way to prove my point! Every dish on the menu is perfectly simple, and yet each item was unbelievable. My friend and I shared a Cesar salad and crab cakes for appetizers, we split the pappardelle pasta for a second course, and the rabbit pot pie for the third course. We finished our meal by splitting a piece of coffee cheesecake, and a piece of strawberry nectarine pie. I realize that that list does not sound anything other than simple. They are all very normal, classic choices. The difference however is that each recipe has a little flair to it. The Cesar for example had a slight hint of fig, and was served with slightly roasted figs. This was something that I have never tried before, and it was an incredible addition to the average Cesar salad. A wonderful heirloom tomato "sauce" accompanied the superb crab cakes, and the rabbit pot pie had a great binding sauce, and one of the best crusts I've ever tasted. Both the crust and the filling of the pie was deliciously fresh, and the cheesecake was creamy, smooth, and light all at the same time. Everything was done to near perfection.

After my meal I couldn't stop myself from comparing it to my dinner at Pizzaiolo. Each dish here was basically a simple, easy, and tasty course. What made my dinner so special however was how impressed I was by the small but crucial additions the chef made to these classic recipes. It was this type of cooking that I said I love so much. All of the food was simple in essence, but amazingly original at the same time. In my opinion, this is one of the most important skills it takes to be a successful chef. Skills in the kitchen are clearly important, but it evident when a cook knows what flavors go well together. The people at Mission Beach Café clearly displayed their knowledge of interesting combinations of flavors, but they also were able to put this into a menu without being too outrageous or risky. Just because one person may like two very contrasting flavors being put together doesn't mean everyone is going to. At Mission Beach they somehow were able to use intriguing and new flavors without taking risks that might not be successful.

How is it that they were able to figure out these great combinations? After mulling this over, I came to the conclusion that this talent must have come from a lot of taste testing! Though there must be some degree of an inherent sense of good tastes, the ultimate sharpener of this skill must come from simply loving to eat, and loving to try new things. Maybe this is just how I feel, but I think that loving the feeling after you discover a great new taste must be one of the underlying things that draws people to the kitchen. Whether it is to cook, or just to eat, people who are truly attracted to the kitchen have to love the prospect of finding some new tongue-tantalizing flavor.

For me, I would have to say that I love not only tasting new, exciting things, but also sharing them with my friends and family. Food plays a huge role in my life because I love enjoying meals with people who are important to me. Whether I make the food, or someone else does, I find that sitting at a table with people that you care about talking, enjoying the company, and exploring new tastes together is one of the easiest and most traditional ways to spend time with people. Whether we are eating things that we are used to, or things that we never imagined we would try, it is the act of getting to explore with others that plays a huge role in my life. I don't know whether or not this means that I should be cooking for others all the time, or if it solely shows that I enjoy food, but either way I know that the thrill of new flavors is one of the main things that draws me to the kitchen. Now the question that this conclusion leads me too is, how does that fact change my thoughts about what cooking means in my life?

Is my love of food and new tastes enough to lead me to a life in the restaurant business?